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Dance: Movement and Modernism

[ Exhibition )

Painting by Gino Severini in cubist style with geometric shapes and patterns. Depicts a full length view of a dancer performing the Can-Can, wearing yellow hose and white petticoats.

Gino Severini, Danseuse No.5 (Dancer No. 5), 1915-16, OIl on canvas, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Kearley Bequest, through The Art Fund, 1989) © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019.

How can the visual arts capture the passion and movement of dance?

By its very nature, dance is elusive and ephemeral, yet artists throughout the 20th century sought to capture it through painting, sculpting and costume design. This exhibition explored the variety of ways Modern British artists attempted to catch the vitality of dance.

When Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes burst on to the stage with its spectacular opening season in Paris in 1909, it was a source of inspiration to many artists. Alexandre Benois and Léon Bakst created evocative and memorable set and costume designs. Beyond the world of ballet, in the vibrant and transgressive Parisian cafés of Montparnasse, fashionable dances such as la chahat epitomised the energy of modern life for artists such as Gino Severini.

The visceral and expressive quality of dance, and the rhythmic movement of the human body, provided a rich symbolic landscape for artists including Henri Matisse, Ceri Richards and Edward Burra, whose works frequently explore the complex world of violence, passion and movement.

Dance as performance continues to inspire artists today. Bringing together choreography, music and design, this field of artistic endeavour testifies to the success of creative collaboration.

Want to know more?

If you’re conducting research into this artist or another aspect of Modern British art and would like to use our library and archive, please contact Sarah Norris, Collections Manager on

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